Ravens unlikely to catch receiver

Draft plan: `Best available' despite player's position

2nd-round pick is 51st overall

Top prospects likely gone by the time team gets turn

Pro Football

April 13, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The Ravens seem resigned to passing on the receiver position with their top pick in next week's NFL draft.

Despite the Ravens' pressing need at wide-out, the lasting impression at yesterday's pre-draft luncheon was their intention to take "the best player available" with the 51st selection in the second round. Because of the expected early run on a deep receiver class, the chances of the Ravens drafting a defensive lineman, cornerback or offensive lineman appear greater than their selecting a leftover wide-out.

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome strongly hinted at this possibility in an impassioned closing statement.

"If we don't think there is a receiver that's a quality enough player to come in and impact our football team, we're not going to draft him," Newsome said. "We will answer the bell again at some point at the receiver position."

Team officials estimate eight receivers (most likely Larry Fitzgerald, Roy Williams, Mike Williams, Reggie Williams, Lee Evans, Michael Clayton, Michael Jenkins and Rashaun Woods) will go in the first 50 picks.

While that might dissuade them from addressing their biggest void, they can see this negative becoming a positive.

"If eight wide receivers go, obviously other positions are going to be pushed down a little bit," Ravens director of player personnel Phil Savage said. "We might find ourselves sitting there with a real top quality player at another position. If that's the case, we'll take that player before we continue down the line of the wide receiver tree."

If the Ravens don't add a receiver in the second round, other options could still become available.

Teams that use first- or second-round picks to select a receiver may be more willing to part with a veteran through a draft-day trade or cut him on June 1 to free up some salary-cap space. Four teams (Arizona, Buffalo, San Francisco and Atlanta) have been touted as ones who will draft receivers. Eight others (Oakland, New England, Kansas City, Denver, Miami, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville and San Diego) have shown periodic interest in drafting a receiver.

Another scenario is that the Ravens could use their extra fifth-round pick (from the Terrell Owens settlement) or their three compensatory choices (one in the sixth and two in the seventh) to move up in the draft. Team officials have mentioned jumping up in the third or fourth round more often than the second round.

"One of the reasons we accepted the fifth-round pick in the settlement was to give us the ability to move up in the draft," Newsome said. "If the opportunity presents itself in any round, we would definitely package some of our picks and move up."

When their trade for Owens was rescinded last month, the Ravens were left with one of the league's worst receiving corps. They are returning more receivers coming off season-ending injuries (Randy Hymes and Javin Hunter) than ones who caught more than 14 passes (Travis Taylor).

Nevertheless, Newsome said he will only take a receiver if he is the highest remaining graded player on the team's draft board. That philosophy can be traced back to the franchise's first draft in 1996, when the Ravens selected future All-Pro offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden rather than filling a need at running back with eventual bust Lawrence Phillips.

"We're not just going to put another body with another number out there at the receiver position," Newsome said. "We could have some nice headlines for two days but by next season we would be miserable. We will investigate every option to make sure we get a better receiver but we're not going to go willy-nilly and try to get one.

"Where we made mistakes in the past and where teams make mistakes every year is that you go in drafting for need. We realize that we need to improve at the receiver position but we're not doing it at the expense at taking a lesser player. We'll continue to use `the best player available' as the way we conduct the draft."

In a related development last night, discussions have been initiated in which Cleveland Browns receiver Dennis Northcutt could be traded to the Denver Broncos, league sources said.

It is unknown what the Broncos would give up for Northcutt. The Ravens had been trying to acquire Northcutt, but their AFC North rivals wanted the Ravens to substantially increase their offer from a fourth- and a seventh-round pick.

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